McAfee Survey: Parents Share Pictures of Their Kids Online, Despite Understanding the Risks Involved

As Birbal had once pointed out to Akbar, “There is only one pretty child in this world and every mother has it.” Never has there been such a strong urge to prove this than in the digital age. Parents are making full use of their social media platforms to keep their friends and family updated with the latest happenings in their precious one’s lives. However, are they compromising their children’s privacy and security to satisfy their pride?

The Age of Consent Survey commissioned by McAfee brings to light some interesting facts in India, regarding parental habits of sharing their children’s photos online.

  • Parents are aware of the risks of posting images of their children on social media, but the majority are doing it anyway, often without their children’s consent
  • 76% of parents say they have considered the images of their children they post online could end up in the wrong hands
  • 61.6% of parents believe they have the right to share an image of their child on social media without their consent

Parents Ignoring the Risks?

The McAfee survey reveals that parents are not giving enough consideration to what they post online and how it could affect their children. There are two kinds of risks involved:

  1. Physical risks: Pictures can be misused to create fake identities, groom victims and morphed and used inappropriately by paedophiles
  2. Emotional risks: They may cause children worry and anxiety if they fear that the photos may be used to shame or cyberbully them

While parents are aware and concerned about the physical risks associated with posting pictures online, they are less concerned about the emotional risks. The survey reveals that moms consider the embarrassing side effect more than dads, with 45% of dads assuming their children will get over any embarrassing content compared to just 14% of moms. But it is important to consider the emotional effects on kids as they will tend to shape his/her character and future.

How do Men and Women Compare When It Comes to Sharing Pictures?

Most men and women post photos of their children only on private social media accounts, indicating they are aware of the risks. While identity theft worries men more, women are more worried about image morphing.  In addition, women are more restrained about sharing pictures of kids under 2 without clothes over social media in comparison to men. But, unfortunately, neither is much concerned about paedophilia. This needs to change! You have to put the ‘stranger-danger’ policy in action well before you start teaching your kids that.

Mumbai Parents Lead in Sharing

Mumbai parents, ahoy! You are tech-savvy no doubt and leave Delhi and Bengaluru way behind when it comes to sharing of kid’s photos online. Though Metro city parents are aware that children may be embarrassed by some of the photos posted and consider photoshopping or morphing of pics as a major potential risk, they still go ahead and share. Whoa! Go easy and THINK well before hitting the ‘SHARE’ button parents; it’s your children we are talking about.

Some Salient India-Specific Findings from The Survey

  • 5% of parents post an image of their child on social media at least once a day
  • 79% share images on public social media accounts
  • 39% of parents don’t consult with their children before posting images of them on social media
  • 98% of parents have considered that the images they post of their child on social media may be embarrassing/be something they wouldn’t want posted, but do it anyway
  • 6% of parents have/would share an image of their child in their school uniform on social media
  • 6% of parents believe they have the right to share an image of their child on social media without their consent
  • The average age parents believe they should begin asking their child for consent to post a photo of them on social media is 10, interestingly, the age of responsibility in India is 7

Tips for Safe Sharing of Children’s pics

  • THINK.POST: Always think twice before uploading pictures of your child. Will it prove risky or embarrassing for the child later in life? If yes, or in doubt, postpone sharing.
  • Disable geo-tagging. Many social networks will tag a user’s location when a photo is uploaded. Parents should ensure this feature is turned off to avoid disclosing their location. This is especially important when posting photos away from home.
  • Maximise privacy settings on social media: Parents should only share photos and other social media posts with their intended audience.
  • Let family, friends know your views on posting images and tagging: This will help prevent future embarrassments. Return the favour.
  • Use an identity theft protection service: The amount of personal data shared online, and the rise in data breach, together escalate the possibility of identity theft. It’s recommended that you use an identity theft protection solution like McAfee Identity Theft Protection to proactively protect your identity and keep your personal data safe from misuse.

Parents, put aside your pride in your child and review the future implications of posting their pictures online. As parents, it’s your responsibility to understand the effects of your social media actions on your child. A few general photographs shared privately may be OK, but it is advisable NOT to turn your social media page into your child’s digital record page. Let your child start his/her digital journey on a clean slate.

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Are You a Screen-Obsessed Mom?

The modern mom is super-efficient; she manages the home, her profession, family, and a hundred other things efficiently day in, day out. But in recent times, something is playing a spoilsport in this perfect scenario in some cases; and that’s her device.

My friend was nostalgic at a party about how she missed her son’s spectacular goal at an inter-school competition even though she had taken a day off for this very reason. “I was checking my emails,” she wailed.

Something similar happened to me too last week!” remarked another. “I was checking my WhatsApp messages while awaiting our turn at the PT meeting in my daughter’s school, when her class teacher gently told me to keep the phone on silent mode. My daughter was so embarrassed and so angry she didn’t speak to me for two straight days!”

I accidentally put the dishes in the washing machine one day, engrossed as I was in viewing the Instagram pics!” confessed another of our always-distracted friend.

Perhaps you have also been called out for paying more attention to the phone, or for proving to be boring company as you preferred your phone to conversation at the restaurant or at a party? If yes, you definitely need to check your level of digital obsession.

 Are you screen-obsessed?

  1. Do you frequently check your phone for messages?
  2. Do you get agitated if your phone is not working?
  3. Do you prefer your phone now to your previous passions like reading, gardening or music?
  4. Do you feel distracted while talking to your kids or family?
  5. Do you check your messages the first thing every morning?
  6. Is your sleep cycle disturbed because you stay up late socializing online?

If the number of ‘yes’ is 3 or more, it might mean that you are finding it tough to balance your digital life. You tend to give your device a higher priority in your life, sometimes at the cost of real relationships. Time to do a reality check Moms, because your social media obsession can have consequences.

Firstly, you need to keep in mind that children are good at picking up unspoken cues. Your phone obsession will tell them you are more interested in your virtual life than in them. They will feel neglected and look for approval elsewhere. While younger kids tend to hide devices, older ones may isolate themselves from you and you definitely don’t want that.

Children may also feel embarrassed by your general digital habits including oversharing, sharing of embarrassing baby pics of them or being distracted during conversations and tiffs may arise, affecting the  general happiness of the family.

With hands busy on the smartphone, will it be possible for you to impart that very essential physical touch – the hug, the squeeze and the hand-holding when kids feel low? I think not. Neither will you be able to share their fun moments, even cartoons, and create teaching points for them, for your screen will be monopolizing your attention.

Don’t distance yourself from your child. You are the adult, and you can identify your issues and change yourself. It’s not too late, start making changes in your digital habits today! Remember, besides mothering your kids, you also need to guide them to follow good digital practices.

Be the digital wellness role model for your kids:

  • You want your kids to practice digital balance? You show them the way – limit your time online and know when to keep the phone away
  • Your kids will be picking up social behavior clues from you so show them how to be a responsible device user – keep the phone on silent mode when in company and avoid looking at it when having a one-to-one conversation
  • Fix ‘No Device Hours’ and ‘Device Free’ dinner time rules so that then entire family get to chat and share
  • Devices away at night- Have a basket in which each member will deposit their phone before turning in for the night. Go back to ending the day with cuddles and story-telling; everyone will sleep with a smile on their faces
  • Turn off message alerts and notifications- The pressure to check for messages will automatically decrease and you will experience reduced stress, trust me

We are worried about the effect of the virtual life in our children’s life but adults too are falling prey to the attractions offered by technology, especially the internet. Instead of engaging with family, grownups are often engaging with their devices, setting a bad example for kids. As parents, we need to take definitive steps to control our screen obsession and balance our digital lives.

After all, we want to set the right examples for our kids, right?

Focus on Real Friends This Friendship Day

I walked into my niece’s room and found her busy making colourful bands.

“What are these for?” I asked.

“Friendship Day is coming up and this year I have decided to make my own bands to give to my friends. Got to finish making them all today.”

“That’s lovely,” and then as a thought struck me, I added, “Are you making them for your friends online?”

“No!!! What a question! How do you think I would give these to them? Virtually? These bands only for real friends.”

Happy as I was to hear that, I couldn’t help adding a parting shot, “Really? Then why do you share so much about yourself with these virtual friends?”

We spent the next few minutes thinking about friends and friendship.

The charm of school and college life lies in friends- the better the group of friends you have the more enjoyable your student life is. Such friendships stand the test of time and can be revived even after years of separation.

If adults can be duped, then aren’t the highly impressionable teens also at risk? Even tech-savvy kids tend to be duped by fake profiles so the smart parenting thing to do is to create awareness beforehand.

Friendship Day is the perfect time to initiate a discussion with your kids on how to establish if online friends are actual people. Start by administering this quiz on real vs. online friends:

Who are your real friends? (Check the boxes that apply):

  • You know them well in person
  • Your parents know them too, and approve of them
  • You are most probably studying in the same school or college
  • You live in the same apartment block or neighborhood
  • You have shared interests and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses
  • You have been to each another’s house
  • You know they will accept you the way you are and never embarrass you in public
  • You trust them

Then, ask them to tick the boxes that apply for their virtual friends and follow it up with a discussion.

Takeaway: The online world holds infinite promises and possibilities but they can be realized only when the user is judicious and careful. In the early years of adolescence, it’s better to keep virtual friends limited to known people.

 Next in line is to find ways to identify fake profiles and learn to block and report:

Teach kids to identify fake profiles online:

  • Profile – Profile pictures is very attractive but there are rarely any family, group pictures
  • Name- The name sounds weird or is misspelled
  • Bio – The personal details are sketchy
  • Friend list – Have no common friends
  • Posts – The posts and choice of videos make you feel uncomfortable or are clearly spams
  • Verification – A Google search throws up random names for profile pic

Show kids how to block and report fake profiles:

  • Save: If you had erroneously befriended a suspicious person, no worries. Keep records of all conversations by taking screen shots, or copy + pasting or through a print screen command
  • Unfriend: Remove the user from your friend list
  • Block: Prevent the person from harassing you with friend requests in future by using the blocking function
  • Flag: Report suspicious profiles to the social media site to help them check and remove such profiles and maintain the hygiene of the platform

Share digital safety tips:

  1. Practice STOP. THINK. CONNECT. -Do not be in a hurry to hike friend count and choose your friends wisely
  2. Share with care: Be a miser when it comes to sharing personal details like name, pictures, travel and contact details online. The less shared, the better it is for the child
  3. Review privacy and security: Check all your posts periodically and delete those you don’t like. Maximize account security and keep privacy at max

Finally, share this message with your kids.

On Friendship Day, pledge to be a good friend to your real friends and limit your online friends to those you know well in real life. Secure your online world by using security tools on your devices and acting judiciously online. If you act responsibly online, you not only make your digital world safer but also help to secure the digital worlds of your friends. That’s the sign of an ideal digital citizen.